- Ronaldo breaks Atletico hearts — again
Nobody breaks Atletico Madrid hearts quite like Cristiano Ronaldo, so it was no surprise to see the Real Madrid talisman do it once again to leave Diego Simeone’s team facing a mountain to climb in next Wednesday’s Champions League semifinal second leg at the Vicente Calderon.
Three Ronaldo goals secured a 3-0 first-leg win for Real in the Bernabeu and inflicted yet more misery on the rivals from the other side of town. The Portuguese superstar scored the final goal in Real’s 4-1 victory over Atleti in the 2014 Champions League final in Lisbon and then slotted the winning penalty in last year’s final in Milan.
Earlier this season, Ronaldo scored a hat trick in Real’s La Liga victory at the Vicente Calderon and, with next week’s return leg due to be the old ground’s final European fixture ahead of the move to the new Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, Atletico must be bracing themselves to be his victims yet again.
His goals in this game were Ronaldo’s 101st, 102nd and 103rd in the Champions League; Atletico have only scored 100 themselves, so every blow lands just that bit harder when it comes from Real’s No. 7.
Can Atletico overturn this defeat and somehow progress to next month’s final in Cardiff? They barely threatened Real in this game and had no answer to Ronaldo, so it will take a huge effort to keep him quiet next week and also score the three goals needed simply to level the tie.
If Atletico fail, the implications could be huge. Will Simeone want to stick around after yet more punishment at the hands of Real? And what will happen to Antoine Griezmann, Atleti’s star man who is being chased by a host of Europe’s top clubs?
This defeat felt like a seminal moment for Atletico and it just had to be Ronaldo who delivered the killer blow.
- Benzema deserves more credit
Karim Benzema has spent so long living in Ronaldo’s shadow at Real Madrid that it is easy to forget the crucial role the French forward has played for the club and his superstar teammate since arriving from Lyon in July 2009.
Back then, Benzema rejected the chance to replace Ronaldo at Manchester United by choosing to play alongside him at the Bernabeu, but over the years, the reality has been that the 29-year-old has played for Ronaldo rather than his equal under a succession of coaches.
Benzema quite simply does the work that goes unnoticed. He makes the diversionary runs, takes the physical punishment from defenders and holds the ball up for Ronaldo to score goal after goal for the European champions.
It was a similar story against Atletico, with Benzema occupying central defenders Diego Godin and Stefan Savic while Ronaldo floated from one flank to the other, searching for a goal to add to his ninth-minute opener, when he headed past Jan Oblak from Casemiro’s cross.
But the reason why Benzema is so effective as a foil for Ronaldo is because he is such a good striker himself, one that opponents dare not leave unmarked.
Only five players have scored more goals in the Champions League/European Cup than Benzema: Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Raul, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Andriy Shevchenko. But despite his 51 goals in the competition, Real fans would still rather see Alvaro Morata playing in his place.
You can safely assume that Ronaldo is more than happy for Benzema to be playing, however.
- Atletico so unlike themselves
There are few certainties in football, but one of them is that Atletico Madrid will make life hugely difficult for their opponents and defend resolutely for 90-plus minutes. Diego Simeone’s team are horrible to play against, so well drilled are they in keeping games tight by their Argentine coach.
But against Real, it all fell apart spectacularly for Atletico, who were simply blown apart by Real’s quick start.
Once Ronaldo had put Real ahead on nine minutes, Atletico’s game plan had been rendered useless and they simply could not get into the game.
Were they tired, overawed or simply beaten by a vastly superior team? Recent history suggests there is not too much between the two sides, but when the big occasion comes around, it is usually Real who come out on top.
The psychological strain of playing, and losing to, Real appeared to have taken its toll on Atletico in this game, so it will be interesting to see how they approach next Wednesday’s second leg — a game that appears to be nothing more than a formality for Real.